If you asked anyone about the purpose of marketing, I'm pretty sure you will get a varied but consistent set of responses.
"To sell something."
"To promote the value of something."
"To achieve business goals."
"To colour pretty pictures and write clever words."
"To make something better than it really is."
"No-one really knows, it's all a bit of dark art."
And as we work our way down those responses, notice the increase in cynicism about marketing and its role. What does it really do? Small business owners, in particular, grapple with this question every day. For them, every resource is precious, and that scarcity builds a mis-trust with marketing. Many business owners feel that they were able to achieve results through hard work, people skills and street-sense. Marketing doesn't seem real to them, or if it does, then their experience with it is founded in the heady heights of the e-commerce bubble of early 00s. Either way, marketing overpromises but under-delivers.
The textbook definition?
"The activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." (source: AMA).
Exchanging offerings that have value.
Yes, that is probably the only definition of marketing you will ever need. Marketing is a vehicle of value exchange between a set of parties. We have diversified what marketing is into terms like content marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing, inbound marketing, outbound marketing, word-of-mouth marketing .... the list is endless and confusing. But regardless of what you call it, it all points back to a value exchange.
What is being exchanged is changing - and I can think of 3 types of value exchanges that are possible. A business that exchanges all of them creates longevity and creates brand preference. So, how many apply to you?
Type 1: Exchange of a product or service in return for money.
This is marketing 101, and it hasn't changed for a couple of millennia. I would suspect that this applies to all businesses and it is the one that is understood the best. Nothing really to explain here, advertising exists to make this exchange possible. So, let's move onto the other two exchanges, which may sound similar, but in reality have some very interesting nuances.
Type 2: Exchange of information in return for your attention.
47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. (Demand Gen Report, 2016)
Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got about 4.5X more leads than companies that published 0-4 monthly posts. (Source: Hubspot}
53% of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority. (HubSpot, 2017)
and most tellingly,
This is a new type exchange of exchange happening in marketing today. In a noisy environment, where consumers are repeatedly bombarded with content, attention is now the most precious commodity.
Now you could argue, attention is just a "means to an end", and in some way you would be right. Which is why there is a third exchange, that for me, is what content marketing truly is.
Type 3: Exchange of information in return for money.
One caveat, if you are a publisher, then this is the same as exchange 1. For everyone else, this is something new.
There is some fantastic content already out there - videos, infographics, pictures, whitepapers. e-books - you name it, it's there. There are more blogs than you could ever read in a lifetime. However, most brand stop at measuring success by how much engagement the content has brought - likes, shares, comments. That's easy - and that's content strategy.
What makes it content marketing is if you can monetise the content itself. That is much harder, given that only 7% of UK respondents in CMI's 2018 survey believed that they could accurately measurement the impact of content at scale. But over time, that will get easier, and as a result, all brands will have a product/service PLUS content as a product.
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